Some schools like to schedule a special “lunch with the author” event. Usually this means inviting a few students (selected by the school) to share lunch with the author. Or it may be a larger luncheon with balloons and pizza with a few students from each grade collected at tables, and the author is asked to drop into each one for a few minutes. (This was the case at Hudson Maxim School, pictured above. Luckily, I was supplied with plenty of croco-cookies to fortify myself.) Students are chosen to attend the lunch in a variety of ways, from attendance records to number of books read to essay contests to simple lotteries. How they’re chosen will be up to your host.
Some coordinators really have their hearts set on having an author lunch while others seem willing to take it or leave it. I generally wait for a school to ask about having a lunch. I never suggest it myself. I enjoy author lunches, but I wouldn’t be totally honest if I didn’t admit that I prefer a bit of quiet time to being the center of attention, keeping up lively conversations with a dozen shy students during lunch.
Because they will be shy, no matter how extroverted they are in class or even during an assembly. Somehow, most students lose their bravado when seated across the table from the author. Which puts pressure on the author to drum up conversation. Since I’m usually trying to refuel not only my body but also my brain during the lunch break, I’d rather the kids do the talking while I listen and munch. So, if they are shy, I try to get a conversation going around the table by asking them questions they can take turns answering. Questions like:
What’s your favorite book? (And I assure them they don’t have to name any of my books.)
Do you have any pets?
What’s your favorite animal?
What do you like to write about?
Do you prefer fiction or nonfiction?
The only topic I declare off limits is video games. I don’t know a thing about them and I find that some boys begin to monopolize the conversation if the subject comes up.
Here’s a very important lesson I learned the hard way: CHECK THE SCHEDULE CAREFULLY. I was once booked at a school by a very sweet but very new-to-author-visits coordinator who told me she wanted to include a lunch with the author. No problem, sez I. When she sent the schedule, I skimmed it, mostly looking for my arrival time, for padding time between sessions, that sort of thing. When the day arrived, and lunchtime rolled around, I discovered that she had planned for me to have SIX LUNCHES — about 10 to 15 minutes sitting rotating among tables in the lunch room (the lunch room!) with each grade. In other words, 15 minutes with a tableful of kindergartners, then move to another table for 15 minutes with first graders, etc., until I had “lunched” with all six grade levels. Shame on me for not realizing her plans, but lemme tell you, I have never allowed that sort of mistake to happen again. I specify one lunch, and please not in a noisy lunch room.
I need a quiet room for two reasons: number one, I need to save my voice, so I can’t be shouting across the table. And number two, even if I’m having lunch with a few youngsters, I still need to rest as much as possible, because presentations take a whopping amount of emotional, mental and physical energy. There’s simply no way to recharge my batteries in a noisy lunch room.
But I did learn a lesson from that: read the schedule carefully!
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